Fandom: Doctor Who
Word count: 3513
Notes: I have been itching to write fic about Lucy ever since she first appeared, it's just taken me a while to straighten out my ideas. I had more to say about her than I thought, which means that this is the first of two connected fics; the second will be set during and after the events of the S3 finale.
The poem referenced herein - and the source of the title - is Beat! Beat! Drums! by Walt Whitman.
Many thanks to schiarire for poking at this and making me think about the characterisation and - of course - the rhythm, and for the Bolero, and for forcing me to remember the word 'ostinato'.
no sleepers must sleep
These are the things that Lucy finds infuriating: transparent liquids, vanilla ice cream, slow music, and people who cannot speak Shakespeare correctly.
"G and T?" her mother enquires of the room at large.
"Not for me, old thing."
"No, thank you," Lucy says, keeping her eyes on her book, following each line of text with rigid saccades and not allowing herself to register the way her knuckles have paled with the reflexive, angry grip.
"Just me, then," her mother says brightly. As she says every night. God forbid that they ever abandon their traditions, no matter how shameful and private.
"Not a lot of T, there, Helen," her father says after a moment, and Lucy hears – as she hears every night – his courage fail halfway through the admonishment, so that it ends up as a feeble joke, something that can be laughed off.
Sure enough, Lady Helen Cole gives a tinkling bubble of well-bred amusement and drops an anorexic slice of lime into her glass. "Enough for appearances' sake."
And that, Lucy knows, is the heart of the matter. The appearance. The gin and vodka and vicious white rum which can be disguised, passed off as something else, hidden, seen through: ignored. As long as her mother can appear at her charity functions and sparkle as a hostess, nobody will lean too close to her or count empty glasses or say a word about the brittle nature of her smiles; at least, not to her face. What happens behind gloved hands and closed doors is another matter entirely. But if it cannot be seen then it is of no consequence, and the whispers dissipate as invisibly as alcohol fumes.
If Lucy were only a slightly different type of girl then she might have begun to starve herself, once upon a time; but she channels her obstinance down different paths because she will not become, like everything else in her mother's world, transparent.
Vanilla ice cream leaves no stain at all upon a white upholstered couch.
Like most girls, Lucy is given lessons in piano and ballet; unlike most girls, she finds them boring almost from the very beginning; though she finds pleasure in some of the small aspects, in the tap-tap of her character shoes against the floor. She learns to cross her legs and reach out with a single finger to set the metronome in motion, watch it swing back and forth with its regular click, click, click. Move the weight down two notches and start all over again.
"Play your scales, Lucy," her mother says, but Lucy makes a lot of mistakes. The notes don't seem all that important, and the songs she is asked to play are too slow, and she lacks the patience to perfect her technique to the extent where she can play at the speeds she prefers.
But something in Lucy remembers how to dance, and it flares up as a savage phoenix of exultation the first time she sets foot inside a nightclub. That night, and all through all the other nights just like it that come to define her unique teenage rebellion, she dances and dances until her neck is slick with sweat and her perfectly smoothed sheets and perfectly plumped pillows are very far away. This is the rebellion: the acknowledgement that she cannot stand appearances for their own sake, and that sometimes she just wants to corrupt everything that her parents and her society hold incorruptible. Including herself.
Lucy corrupts her hair with gel and her skin with coloured powders and loses herself in music that is hardly music at all, just a beat, and one night not long after she has turned eighteen she finds herself accidentally-on-purpose losing her virginity in a club toilet: just like the worst kind of cliché but what the hell, she thinks, let's see if they notice this taint, the kind that can't be reversed and can't be scrubbed away.
It's not nearly as bad as she was bracing herself for; the man has no rhythm of his own but it's all right because the music is so loud that the beat merges with the dirty white porcelain and fills her whole body. God, she thinks, trying to find friction in the cold-warm slide of her bare shoulders against the tiles, god, all right, imagining the body filth of hundreds of people mingling with sweat on her skin, imagining going home and wiping it all over those sheets, yes, and she clutches at his arms and finally the thrilling fire spiraling upwards from her stomach overtakes the discomfort in the muscles of her back and then her legs tighten and she is molten, pulsing, filthy, glorious.
"We're not going to talk about this," she says decisively, pulling fabric back into place, and she doesn't even know if he can hear her over the noise but he doesn't look like he wants to talk either, so they draw apart with no effort, easy as an oiled zipper.
With the last remnants of the pleasurable heat fade Lucy's fantasies and all of her courage; in this, she takes after her father. Her rebellions can never quite be followed through all the way. She is hoping that her parents will notice that she is tainted because she will not have the guts to tell them herself.
So Lucy Cole goes home and takes a shower and slides into a clean silky nightie and falls asleep between her clean silky bedclothes with the beat still pounding in her head, slamming itself dully against one corner of her skull and then the other.
The rhythm of language is just as important, if not more so, and Lucy simmers her way through secondary school English: while her classmates clumsily torture Shakespeare's iambic pentameter, she wonders how they can possibly fail to hear the accents, to hear that a word ends in a certain way. It's dreadful. It is like being the only person in an orchestra who can tell that the violins are out of tune.
She studies Italian because it is fluid and knows how to hold its own beat, and she ends up in publishing because there are only so many occupations that are both acceptable to her parents and contain the requisite number of words, on a daily basis, to stop her from going insane. Lucy finds a quiet gratification in ghostwriting biographies, in taking an awkwardly phrased life out of a person's hands and forcing it into a form that is more pleasing to the ear; she listens, and tunes, and adjusts, and creates order out of discord.
Harold Saxon, however, speaks like he has mastered the rhythm of the English language – and every language, every language imaginable – and instead chosen to subvert it brilliantly. Lucy adores him at once, and applies herself to the easy task of turning his background into flattering and palatable prose with an unusual zeal.
He talks and she thinks she might be catching inconsistencies, but they never seem important enough to mention. He talks and she submerges herself in his voice, letting it close over her like warm water. He talks and she tries to isolate the emphases as she always does, tapping her fingers surreptitiously against the table as he speaks, until one day he breaks off in the middle of a sentence and looks at her hand with a calm, tense questioning. She flushes.
"No," he says, and then, "Would you like to have dinner with me, Lucy?"
He asks it just as clinically as he might ask Don't you think this section should be part of the next chapter, Lucy?, but she finds herself saying yes anyway.
Lucy is glad when Harold orders his steak rare because it gives her an excuse to do the same. He is charming to the waiters but with a fragile edge of sarcasm lining each remark; for the most part it goes by too fast for them to grasp, and their foreheads crease with vague worry but they cannot catch him out. Lucy smiles, orders a deep red wine, and tilts the glass with pleasure. Nothing about the evening is transparent; everything is solid and warm and immediate and might leave a stain.
"Please," he says, while they are eating, "let's not be formal with each other, Lucy. Call me Harry."
A drop of bloody juice falls from the middle tine of her fork and onto the pristine white tablecloth, and Lucy catches her smile before it can grow, hearing her mother's voice inside her head: making a mess while eating is not how one impresses a gentleman, Lucy.
Lucy, however, is beginning to doubt that Harold Saxon is any kind of gentleman at all, and the thought is thrilling.
She lets another drop join the first.
"Dear me," she says softly, and looks up. A vague, considering smile is playing around Harold's lips, and as she watches he moves his arm sideways so that his cufflinks collide with his glass. Spilt wine soaks aross the tablecloth in an expensive burgundy wave, and a waitress starts to hasten towards them.
"Dear me," he says with immaculate confidence, and their eyes meet in perfect understanding.
"So I hear you plan to lead this country, Mr Saxon?" her father says.
Harry shakes his hand and gives a steady smile. "If the opportunity arises, Lord Cole, I plan to lead this entire universe."
Lucy's mother gives her polite, gin-infused laugh. "Such ambition," she simpers.
"An admirable quality," Lord Cole says, and Lucy watches him squeeze Harry's hand approvingly before releasing it.
Harry declines a gin and tonic without batting an eye, and plays chess with her father after dessert and coffee. Lucy watches the board for a while but she has never had a head for strategy and so she ends up watching Harry's face instead: the almost childish way his eyes dart from rook to knight, the way his mouth curves as though he finds something ironic about the positioning of the marble pieces.
That night Harold walks her to the door of her apartment and then across the threshold and then into her bedroom; Lucy's breath is coming so fast she cannot remember which of the doors they closed behind them and which they left open. There are clothes scattered across the floor and then they are on the bed and Harry is kissing her fiercely and then their chests are pressed together skin to skin and –
And then all of the inconsistencies smash into her with the force of a tidal wave.
She sucks in a breath. "You –"
"Something to say, Lucy?" His hands encircle her wrists, and Lucy weighs her future in her upturned palms, laid flat against the intricate syncopation of his hearts. She counts the beats of the left one, which is more regular: in the space of five pulses, she discards her preconceptions; discards her entire world. In the space of three more, she makes her choice. And on the ninth, she closes her eyes and tilts back her chin in an instinctive gesture that comes from the most primitive part of her. It is a gesture that bares the blood; it says take my life.
She opens her eyes again to the sensation of Harry's lips tracing a slow path upwards from the hollow of her throat, and catches approval in his own eyes when they move into view.
"I'm going to tell you a story," he says.
And he does, suffering interruptions by her insistent lips and the hitches of his own breath, laying bare a truth that Lucy could have written volumes about and then sold as a brilliant fiction. But she believes every word, and is not all that surpised to find herself just as close to falling in love with him as before. She accepts him and kisses him and searches for the vortex in his eyes as he enters her.
This, as all other things, he does with perfect rhythm and with that violent predator's grace, and together they create stains and local explosions and strange new combinations of fluids with the reckless enthusiasm of amateur chemists. Gasping and clutching until they lie side-by-side and Lucy's head is spinning with new knowledge and with the slow, delicious draining of energy from her limbs.
"What you said earlier," she says then, slowly. "About leading the entire universe."
She finds a warning in the cadence of his voice, and lowers her eyes in brief acknowledgement of it, but then looks up again. "You weren't joking, were you?"
He produces a breathtaking smile and tangles his hand in her hair. "Well done."
Lucy's childhood is a castle constructed out of books, books, more books, Blyton and Barrie and Streatfield and Stevenson and –
"It's not very subtle for an allegory, is it?" Harry asks, looking at the final page of her much-thumbed paperback with the expression she now recognises as an alien's amusement at the vagaries of her race.
"I don't think it's supposed to be," she says. She is lying across his lap with her stockinged feet dangling out over the fat arm of the chair, half asleep.
"Queen Lucy the Valiant," he says, and she can't work out if he's teasing her or not. "Do you have valour, do you think?"
Valour is an old word, belonging more to the suits of armour that line the corridors of her parents' house than to Lucy's life of rhythmic prose and polished soundbites and new, dangerous secrets.
"I don't know," she says sleepily, but Harry has already flicked back to the part where one brother betrays his siblings and is reading it again.
Lucy wonders: did Judas have valour?
Spending more and more time with Harry, it is impossible to miss the way his feet and fingers slip into percussive states when his mind is on other things, or the way he sometimes winces and presses his fingertips to his temples with a sound that does not quite signify pain.
When she asks, he talks in circles and trips her up in her own awkward questions. But that evening he looks at her over a glass of wine as though she is a chess piece, a pawn that has sidled its way across the board and managed to become a queen, and then he tells her about the drums.
And Lucy, who has been overeducated in things that she never has occasion to use, shuffles her memory and pulls up a card.
"So strong you thump, O terrible drums," she says, and Harry watches her with a hooking expression that draws the lines of the poem out of her, haltingly, one by one.
"Yes," he says then, quietly. "That sounds about right."
Make even the trestles to shake the dead, where they lie awaiting the hearses.
Because in many ways he has awoken her from her dead pointless life, shaken her hard by both shoulders and then shoved her out into the light.
Before Lucy quite knows what is going on, they are engaged: her father gives his approval and she's a bit surprised because they've never spoken of it, but she knows that he needs a wife for political reasons and – she is shocked at the heat of her own jealousy – it's not going to be anyone else.
"I bought you something," Harry says, and he is all taut and triumphant like a silk string that she could reach out and pluck, but it doesn't make any sense until she steps off the plane and he removes the blindfold and there are clouds, clouds everywhere and new tarmac under her feet. "Guess what it's called," he says then, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her closer to one vertiginous edge with careless force. "Go on, guess."
Very few people realise the double meaning in the Valiant's title; to most it is just an antique virtue, rendered more desirable by time.
And indeed: "To move forward we have to return to old values," Harry says into the microphones with a perfectly straight face. They are back on solid ground and speaking to a select group of reporters about everything from Harry's policy plans to how much her engagement ring cost.
"I love you," she says later, trying it out on him. Something that she cannot quite put her finger on, but she suspects is an advanced form of survival instinct, has held those words back before this moment.
"Oh, my dear little Lucy." He lays his hand next to her cheek and leans in to kiss her in a manner that is far more heated than it is romantic. "I love you too."
And then he blinks and looks, just for a moment, quite surprised.
"Can you hear them?" he asks her: with his arm around her shoulders, with his hand sedately in hers, with his face pressed against her neck.
She can't; not yet. But she knows what she is listening for.
The first public appearance of Harold Saxon and his fiancée Lucy Cole is at a performance by the London Symphony Orchestra, and Lucy wears a black dress that costs more than anything she's ever worn before and slips her arm around Harry's waist and lets him do the waving for both of them.
Make no parley, he murmurs into her ear, and she murmurs back, mind not the timid, which she's allowed to say because she's no longer one of them.
The cameras flash and flash, hungrily capturing their intimate whispering and spitting it out as pixels crammed full of affection. She makes a perfect smile with her mouth and sends it out to them like a gift.
In most wedding matters they defer to Lucy's mother, who makes no secret of the fact that she has been waiting every day since her own wedding for the day when she can plan her daughter's. She makes the requisite noises of regret that Harry's parents are dead and so will not be present, and then she pours herself several glasses of something that looks like water and smells like nailpolish remover and becomes a one-woman army of organisation. Lucy herself feels almost incidental to the process, holding the flowers that are placed in her hands and walking when she is told to walk, but when Harry lifts the veil she forgets everything else and willingly embraces this cliché as well: nothing matters but them. Perhaps it's political and perhaps she's a pawn in something much larger than herself, but Harry leads her out onto the dancefloor and gives her a look that's full of pride and she thinks maybe, maybe I can be a queen as well.
"It's a waltz," she says with a sigh, steeling herself against the agonisingly sedate music that she knows her mother chose for their first dance.
"Is it?" Harry murmurs, and she only has time to widen her eyes in response to his self-satisfied smile before the first pounding notes erupt out of the speakers and the members of the string quartet look around in surprise.
"Oh." Lucy presses the back of her hand to her mouth and laughs as Harry grabs her other hand and spins her under it.
"Ravel's Bolero," he yells over the music. "The club remix."
"People will talk," she yells back.
"Certainly." He pulls her close against him and his smile is the same, confident and untouchable. "They'll call it innovative. Refreshing. Anything I want them to call it."
So they dance and the synthesised ostinato captures her feet, da-da-da-dah, da-da-da-dah, and Lucy has never been happier.
"Tomorrow morning I will tell you my vision for this country," Harry says. "And this world."
Lucy sees death in his smile and is not afraid: she long ago accepted that she would be a Judas of one kind or another, and she knows where her loyalties lie.
Two hearts must make his pulse stronger, more obvious, because when he touches her she can feel the pressure as his blood surges closer to the skin. Her wedding dress is an expanse of crisp white material like snow, and together they grasp its exquisite embroidered edges and rend it at the seams, force open the row of tiny buttons, crumple and tear and lay waste to the luxury, exposing her skin with a laughing violence that is something like lust and something like a dress rehearsal for war.
Lucy kisses her new husband and spreads out her limbs underneath him in a way that means surrender and she thinks: first me, then the world.
Harry laughs and moves her legs further apart with a nudge of the wrist.
"Hear them now?" he whispers, and there it is, his fingertips pressed up against her and the pulse, that savage double rhythm, resolving itself into a far-off sound and her own blood falling into the beat.
"I hear them," she gasps.
He smiles and twists his fingers.
"Dance," he says.
Sequel: like a ruthless force